Service, Freedom and Slavery

Passage: Matthew 6:24

6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.


Soul Search Essay

There is a certain level of irony in this passage as it exists in Greek. The word for serve here is from the word group for slavery – doulas.  What is ironic is that the classical Greek man valued his independence, his personal freedom as the most important thing he possessed.  To be free to a ancient Greek undergirds every conceived and executed action.  To be in a state where doulos applied to him?  That would be a horror beyond all other horrors for a Greek.  Yet, here in Greek language is a strong statement about servitude.

Does the Greek focus on freedom sound familiar?

Don’t we Americans value freedom?  For people pursuing business success, social success are we not pursuing the freedom that wealth and connections can confer; the freedom from want and need; the freedom to do as we wish; the freedom to have what we want, go where we want, be what we want?  Isn’t this the American business dream; the social “A” list dream?  Isn’t this the wall that the corporate ladder leans against; a wall of access, of power, of wealth, of acclaim?  If so, are we not the same as the classical Greek?  Yes, we are.  Ask a secular history of philosophy professor and she will say that American and European life, concepts, beliefs, and ways of thinking were born in Greece. The Grecian umbilical cord is thousands of years long.  It is also incredibly thick.

There is a second word of interest in this verse as well, although it is not Greek.  The word “money” in this translation represents the word mammon.  This is an Aramaic word not just for money, but also possessions.  A modern paraphrase might be ‘net worth and social status.’ So, what is in view here is not just a bank account, but the home, clothes, cars, and all our other possessions.  So, the challenge issued in this verse is not just about pursuing wealth.  It also is about serving possessions.

What is insurance?  It is service of and for possessions.  It is the payment of time (via wages for most of us) as money to secure future replacement of possessions.  I work a portion of time each pay period inorder to maintain possessions.  Is this not serving mammon?

What is fashion?  Is it not the use of appearance to manage others impressions and opinions.  Clothes, cars, homes are purchased in order to convey something to other humans.  We manage our appearance in service to our desires and goals. Is this not serving mammon?

What is a person “having it made?”  Is it not a label applied to someone who excels at fashioning a perspective of him or her that embodies personal freedom due to access to money, the ‘right’ possessions, along with the acceptance of other ‘made men’ and ‘made women?’  Yes, I mean this in the mafia sense; even, even as I place this label on you and me.  To be made is to prove to power holders in a group that you have such total commitment to their approach to life that you become one of the power group.  Are you not a slave to the perceptions that you spin through possessions?  Are you truly free?

Freedom is the ability, will and effort expended in following a different agenda – an alien agenda.  You can serve God.  Freedom is found in devotion to an alien agenda provided by YHWH’s love.  It is given to you each day.  Yes, this love has tasks.  It also has community.  Real community.

It is a question of values.  It is a question of access.  YHWH’s values. YHWH’s access.

He Did Not Charge

Passage: Job 1:20-22
1:21 Then Job got up and tore his robe. He shaved his head, and then he threw himself down with his face to the ground. 1:21 He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return there. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed!” 1:22 In all this Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with moral impropriety.


Soul Search Essay
He did not charge God with moral impropriety. He (Job) did not “….charge God….”

Job suffered a complete loss of his business. Job suffered the death of every child he had fathered (plus friends and servants). Yet, he did not charge God with moral impropriety. What is the point of saying this? What is the point of recording this so that thousands of years later you might read it here?

A huge reversal of fortune such as Job’s massive losses brings out in humans a profound craving for an object of blame. The pressure in our emotions, our minds and our social fabric ferociously pushes us toward blaming. We become fixated on it for a time (for some it is for all time). Most of the rest of the book of Job is a treatise on how the compulsion to blame plays out in our emotions, in our minds and most especially in our social fabric. What does this passage and this Bible book have to do with the dangers of business success? It is (in a sense) a matter of economics.

Businesses run on two currencies. One is money (as cash and credit). The other is blame. The money economy is positive in that having or possessing money confers power. In a sense, the blame economy is negative; meaning that not holding or not possessing blame is good. Thus it is negative, because the desired state is the absence of owned blame.  (Ownership of blame is externally imposed by a social grouping on the nominal owner or owners.)

The desired state of money is its positive presence (as cash) or at least ready access (as credit) and this clearly ties to business success. Businesses succeed, because they make money. Successful businesses, regardless of what they make, do, sell, or offer must make sufficient money to continue operating. Any business can (and often does) lose money of course. The question is not about the possibility of losing money. The question is about how long money can be lost. How long can you lose money at the current rate and survive? What about blame?

The desired state of blame is to avoid having it.  Avoid ownership at all costs.  How does this tie to success? Within a human organization (family, business, group, club, etc.), blame is like the fire, the wind and the raiders were to Job (see the events in the verses prior to our passage). Blame is a source of destruction. In fact, it is a powerful destroyer. Successful business people usually work very hard to avoid holding or possessing blame. Again, any business person can (and often does) possess blame at some point in a career. The question, however, is not about the possession of blame. The question is similar to the one for money.  How much blame can you absorb?  What direction is the flow of blame going?  Toward you?  For how long and how much in total?  The question in reality is about directing and controlling the flow of blame.

Many people who want to succeed can ask themselves in a blame crisis, “How can I orchestrate my thinking and behavior so that blame easily passes from me to another of my choosing?” OK.  OK.  Yes, I know most people do not think in terms as Machiavellian as this. The thought is more along the lines of “Crap! I could lose my job! This isn’t my fault!” even though objectively it is the person’s fault. These two sets of thoughts are the same.

You see people avoid awareness of how Machiavellian they can become. They prefer to not admit that they think in terms of “How can I make blame pass quickly from me to somewhere else?” (Of course, even the “somewhere else” is simply self delusion. Blame passes to and from agents capable of choice. To say “somewhere else” is to deny the truth of how we choose to pass blame. It is a double falseness. Many of our spiritual issues involve this type “doubleness.”)

So, to help understand this consider that in money and in blame, we have transactions. Things in actual existence actually change hands. This is the foundation of an economy – transactions – things passing from one person to another for the benefit of at least one party in the transaction.

“In all this Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with moral impropriety.”

Humm, so Job did not engage in an economic act. He did not engage in a blame transaction by passing the blame currency (a blame token) to God. That was a dumb business move.  He failed to benefit from choosing a blame transfer transaction.  This left him wide open to becoming the recipient of blame transactions.

Skim through some sections of the rest of Job. Say 4:1 through 8. What is happening so early in this book? Eliphaz is attempting economic management. He is attempting to direct the blame into Job’s possession. There are many verbal blame tokens scattered in the verses.  Why?  For the same reason business people attempt to direct portions of the blame economies in their organizations.

Answers are power.

Having an apparently accurate answer (the blame token) gives the bearer power (even if it is a lie). If you answer the implicit, yet ferocious question of “Who is to blame” and the person you deem the recipient can’t avoid blame delivery, then a transaction has occurred. You are the benefiting party.  Your answer imposed on another is an attempted act of economic power. If the market (the peer group, bosses, etc.) accepts that this other is to blame, then this is one of the most powerful transactions that occurs in business. No money changed hands, yet power flowed. The power was implicit in the creation of the need to blame, not in money.  The power was created by the anxiety of the group.

The power was implicit and present due to the ferocious human need for answers, especially for answers about blame.  Blames’ latent power is ever present.  Anxiety is never far at work when things go wrong.

The book of Job contains a huge series of blame transaction attempts.  Why?  Some of these attempts by Job’s friends are made seemingly on God’s behalf (and without his permission).  Why? There are two reasons that I see.

”Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return there. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.” Reason one, we reject the reality that life is not about us. This statement by Job is an acceptance and affirmation that Job is not owed anything by God and since everything is owned by God as its creator (including Job), there is no basis for blame due to the losses Job has suffered. Therefore, there is no blame market.

Job possessed these elements of his life that he lost, but he did not own them.  With no explicit, factual ownership, the implicit need to blame is weakened.  Job could blame due to the losses and the attendant grief.  Job, however, somehow understood that there is no right to bring a blame market into his life and therefore, he cannot bring a charge of blame against God.  With no market, there is no blame transaction between Job and God (or anyone else). The book of Job could end here. It does not. The compulsion to have an answer (and hence power) forces Job’s friends to create a long lasting market. Indeed, it seems at times to be a bull market that cannot die.  Count the verses in the book spent in the market of blame. The percentage is significant. It is most of the book. The friends attempt blame transactions over and over and over.

Reason two, has to do with the inherent power of the blame market. To direct blame through answers (real or made up) is to have significant power. To use answers not just to direct a single blame transaction, but to actually control a section of the blame economy is to have formidable power.  Being a blame market maker and/or a market controller is heady power. With that power, business rivals can be weakened or eliminated. With that power, your status is free from the effects of your poor choices, opponents efforts or simple bad luck.

That type of power is intertwined in modern American business success.  Whether acknowledged or not, the power to supply blame answers courses through business like a flash flood in a wadi. Wadis are dry riverbebs created by infrequent, but very strong water flows.  Wadis are easily forgotten, until a flash flood comes. With that flood of blame, kingdoms and business fiefdoms are bartered, internecine rivals are slighted or even slain. Their careers and characters are sold in the gushing currency of blame. Their characters and reputations are placed in the market pits clamor and they are sold.

The power of blame management that is inherent in American business’ blame economies is why Job’s statement in 1:21-22 matters. The point of Job’s statement being recorded is that it speaks to the heart of what we too often do in business. It speaks to the darkness in that heart by highlighting the absence of this sin in Job’s choices. The fact Job did not charge God (or anyone else) is phenomenal.  The depth of soul required to accomplish this with the level of provocation Job experienced is mind boggling.

Please never pass this verse again except with deep appreciation of the character Job possessed.

“1:22 In all this Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with moral impropriety.”

How in the world did he do this??

Next we will turn from the question about Job to consider the source of the darkness in the business heart.

View Reversal

Passage: James 5:6
5:6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you.


Soul Search Essay
This essay is even harder. Literally this passage’s translation is “You have condemned, have murdered, he does not resist.”  Wow, laying it on a little thick aren’t you James? Hammering it home in short phrases, guy!  Is this really necessary?

Have you ever been wronged and felt deeply hurt? Hurt in a situation where you could not fight back, because the power differential was so great that to respond invited worse pain or frightening consequences? Didn’t you feel condemned? Murdered even, if the hurt was extremely deep? Why wouldn’t I feel that at your hands? Are the wounds you inflict on me cosmically exempt from my perceiving them as murder? Only if God directed you to carry out the confrontations or actions.

Did he? Changing how we see is based on vulnerable truth. Harming others is about avoiding vulnerability. It is using power ostensibly to protect yourself. Changing how you see is about becoming vulnerable enough to feel what you did to me. It is changing how you see (the method of seeing) to the point you can objectively look through my eyes at what you did. When I did not resist, it is possible that I chose vulnerability over winning. What does that say about you when you look through my eyes?

Captured…

Passage Colossians 2:6-8
2:6 Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 2:7 rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 2:8 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Soul Search Essay
I have worked in a variety of work environments and businesses – for-profit, non-profit, entrepeneurial, established businesses, family businesses, etc. I have read many business and management books. Only a very few of these books are based in scripture. Fewer secular business environments actually reflected Christ like influence. Many of the environments I worked in were populated with a scattering of Christians (I live in the Bible Belt), but from what I could tell the race to influence mentioned in the prior devotional essay was being lost by these believers. Most did not seem to know a race was even happening.

In any new social environment there is a race between you and the environment on who will influence whom more. Yes, your entry into the environment, your shared thoughts, your actions, etc. are having an impact, but are you not also adjusting your thinking and actions based on the responses to you from the environment? You are. This means you are changing, even if you do not realize it. OK, maybe you are in management and you may be a strong leader making an observable impact. Even you, however, are not unchanged by others in that environment. You do not have sufficient power to impose your will with no impact on you by other’s behaviors, even if you are the CEO. Also, your observable impact may be more in line with human tradition than Christ.

Consider your work history. How often were the relationships you have now and those you have had at work been infused with Christ-based input coming to you (again to you, not from you)? What where all the influences that you experienced? Were there Christ-based influences impacting you that were both pervasive throughout this history and defining of these environments (See footnote)? Why in the world would I ask these questions of someone in a secular business environment? Do I not understand the trends in America today? The removal of Christianity from many American forums. Do I as an author have no clue about this distancing in American businesses, whether small, medium or large? This distancing is precisely the trigger for this essay.

Since most Christians work in secular business systems led and staffed by non-Christians, these believers are at least strongly influenced and sometimes strongly controlled by evil. Whoa! Am I saying all business is evil? No. I am saying all businesses (unfortunately even ministries) have many, many deep tendrils of evil running through them.

To believe that Satan ignores or is excluded from business culture and philosophy is foolish. It is laughable. We live in an unavoidably fallen world. Falleness dominates the world. Why? Satan is the current ruler of this world and his goals are spiritual. Satan is committed to lying his way to the destruction of anything Christ-based and/or Christ-connected. Anything. One of his most effective tools at insinuating his lies into your life is your work within a business. Why?

Business offers power, money and status. These are powerful ways “…to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” The modern American business is founded on human traditions. If you disagree with me, take a serious look at your workplace. Really look hard. How many things in that environment influence you to “…continue to live your lives in [Christ], rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness?” Many? Maybe a few, but do you work in an environment that actively supports your spiritual development? Or does it offer other solutions? For the vast majority of the answer is “No, it does not support my spiritual development.” Yet, work and business definitely offer solutions. Do you recognize the solutions you are being offered? The solutions are too often destructive and therefore are tremendous threats to you.

So, what is the greatest threat to your being “…rooted and built up in him…?” Success.  Success itself.  Continue in the essays to understand why I say this.

FOOTNOTE: Notice that I did not ask you if you worked in a Christian ministry. This devotion essay has nothing to do with working exclusively in a church or ministry. Most Christians do not work in ministry delivery businesses. I am addressing Christians in the secular business world, which is where most Christians work.